“Let’s not expect a revolution that will give primacy to electric vehicles in just 5 Years,” says Scania’s Wojciech Rowiński

I completely understand that a company that has 10 cars will not decide to introduce even one electric truck because then 10 percent of its transport will depend on electromobility. However, a company with a fleet of 100 vehicles may decide to make such a move because it will be less burdensome for it. This is not surprising - we are observing the natural construction of new logistics and transport networks," says Wojciech Rowiński, General Director at Scania Polska, who analyses potential directions of zero-emission development.

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Dorota Ziemkowska-Owsiany: How have recent changes regarding tolls in Germany affected the sales of trucks?

Wojciech Rowiński, General Director at Scania Polska: The implementation of the European directive [which imposes on Member States to make road tolls dependent on CO2 emissions from trucks; in Germany, the act on this matter entered into force on December 1, 2023] is groundbreaking. This is the first such a strong signal sent to the entire transport industry that the carbon footprint is financially important and its importance will only increase in the future.

All the more so because similar rules will soon be introduced by other European Union member states. Moreover, from July, new rules in Germany will apply to vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of less than 7.5 tons. Has Scania noticed a change in truck sales due to these changes? In other words, has there been an increase in interest in electric cars?

I cannot say that this has translated into specific numbers regarding the purchase of electric cars, but there is definitely a much greater interest in reducing the carbon footprint.

How does this manifest itself?

Customers pay more attention to the vehicle’s emission class, which determines the toll amount. When considering the optimal specification for their business, they immediately ask what class their vehicle will be in.

There are customers who, for example, want to know what to invest in so that a truck that is currently in the third class will, in a few years, when it is sold on the secondary market as a used car, fall into the second class, not the first class. Because such information increases the value of the car at resale.

What determines what class a vehicle falls into?

The system has introduced a reference point according to which individual classes are determined. It will change over time, which means that as the number of top-class cars increases, the level of entry into a given class for a given vehicle will change.

Therefore, we cannot guarantee the customer that the car we sell today in a specific specification will be classified in the same class next year. However, by observing what is happening on the market, we are able to offer the client a specification that is most likely to be at a favorable level and, therefore, will be associated with an appropriately lower toll rate.

How do you evaluate the recognition in the road toll system of certain types of drive, for example gas, as no longer deserving preferential treatment?

For now, to simplify the system, gas vehicles have been equated to diesel vehicles. I say “for now” because I think there is still room for discussion.

We fight to keep our carbon footprint as small as possible, every gram per 100 km counts. Therefore, if we know that the carbon footprint of gas vehicles is smaller than in the case of traditional drives, this should be reflected in the fee system. Therefore, I believe that the current solution is temporary. In my opinion, regulations must be introduced that will enable the effective operation of e.g., biogas vehicles.

Let’s move on to one more controversial issue – I’m thinking about the definition of zero-emission vehicles. The European Union uses the tank-to-wheel approach, which means that only direct emissions related to fuel consumption in the vehicle from the moment of refueling are taken into account. Meanwhile, we know well that electricity is produced in different ways in different countries and, for example in Poland, the share of renewable energy sources in the energy mix is just over 37%, with most of it coming from coal combustion. This casts doubt on the EU’s definition.

In my opinion, this definition is absolutely not correct. The proper definition is based on the well-to-wheel approach, i.e., from the energy source to the vehicle’s emissions.

However, I strongly support the temporary possibility of using a limited definition because it seems much more reasonable to me for electric or low-emission vehicles to use energy sources that will become more and more ecological over time, rather than waiting with the development of propulsion systems and infrastructure until the energy mix is in one hundred percent will be achieved by renewable energy sources.

Especially since today, from a technological point of view, we are able to carry out virtually all heavy transport in cities, both passenger and freight, only using electric vehicles.

Of course, globally, from a well-to-wheel perspective, this will not result in a significant reduction in the carbon footprint. However, it will reduce the exposure of people in cities to polluted air and the incidence of inhalation diseases and cancer. And let us remember that it is estimated that in 2050 almost 70 percent of the population will live in urban areas [according to forecasts by UN experts].

But when we talk more broadly, about international heavy goods transport, it is clear that it is difficult to find an effective alternative to diesel, for example due to the fact that the range of electric cars does not exceed several hundred kilometers on a single charge. Is this something that could change in a short time?

I would not like to create an ethos of a zero-emission revolution. We should rather look at it as an evolutionary change that is taking place before our eyes, in very good symbiosis with the availability of charging infrastructure. Currently, there is no problem with charging electricity in cities, and the ranges of electric cars produced are sufficient to carry out transport tasks that require heavy distribution in urban agglomerations.

However, the technology related to vehicle development goes further – it enters the area of tractor units, responding to the needs of regional distribution. Today, electric vehicles can perform shuttle transport from production plants to logistics centers, i.e., over a distance of 300-400 km. In this case, the charging source is located in the logistics center. Sometimes there is also photovoltaics or energy storage available there. This then makes electric solutions more profitable than combustion ones for these routes.

We can analyze how it works in practice, for example, using the example of using an electric Scania to deliver Volkswagen Caddy parts from the supplier park in Swarzędz to Antoninek. The route is short, 8 kilometers long, which only shows that for now it is easiest to plan electrical deliveries over short distances.

Definitely yes. However, it should be remembered that cooperation with Volkswagen Poznań will be extended and its first stage is currently being implemented. We did a full transport analysis of the entire production cycle at Volkswagen Poznań in that region, i.e., in Antoninek, Września, and Poznań. We have created a plan to use electric vehicles on a wider scale, which we will implement within 3-4 years, electrifying further routes.

The requirement to electrify the route from Swarzędz to Antoninek was also dictated by the fact that a car traveling between one plant and another passes through a built-up area. The benefits of electric drives, reducing the noise burden on residents, are also a very important argument.

Was achieving similar benefits the goal when using the electric Scania in Ruda Śląska? I am thinking about the recently completed tests of delivering goods to Jeronimo Martins.

Definitely also in this case, the goal was to extend the operating time of vehicles without disturbing the well-being of local residents with noise in places where the process of delivering goods to stores starts before 6:00 a.m. or ends after 10:00 p.m.

Moreover, the client wanted to check the vehicle’s range using recuperation. We are able to recover a lot of energy from the braking process, thus increasing the range of the car.

From an investment point of view, what did the use of electric vehicles require from your clients?

There are several aspects to this. First of all – the financial issue, i.e., the answer to the question of how much an electric car costs and what is the relationship to the price of a combustion car. Moreover, what is the cost of charging infrastructure. Then the savings start to show up. For example, this type of car does not have to waste time getting to the station because it charges at the loading or unloading point. There is the previously mentioned possibility of extending the operating time of such a vehicle at night because it is much quieter.

Virtually all international companies are currently implementing development assumptions leading to a zero carbon footprint and require this from their partners. More and more often in Europe, the use of zero-emission vehicles is not a matter of whether it is more or less profitable, but in many cases, it determines whether the carrier will receive orders at all.

For example, in Norway a few years ago, 30 percent of the points in tenders for construction works in the city were awarded for zero emissions of both noise and CO2. Investing in zero emissions involves a very broad calculation.

Let’s focus on the first aspect you mentioned, namely the financial issue. In some cases, electric vehicles are now up to three times more expensive than diesel ones. Additionally, there is currently no subsidy available for their purchase in Poland. On the other hand, there is the need to build one’s own charging infrastructure, as there is practically no public one available. However, this is a significant aspect, especially since it affects entrepreneurs’ budgets.

I agree, but there is one “but”. At this point, the preparation of two very large projects to support the electrification of heavy transport is nearing completion in Poland. PLN 1 billion is allocated for means of transport, and PLN 2 billion for heavy transport charging infrastructure – this type of support is proposed. Regarding infrastructure, it will be possible to receive up to 100% reimbursement of eligible investment costs.

And of course, we can debate to what extent such investments should be economically profitable and to what extent they should be supported. Personally, I believe we are at the onset of developing zero-emission transport, hence state support is crucial. It’s about kick-starting these investments so they become self-sustainable in the future.

But let’s not delude ourselves – such subsidies are not available yet. Moreover, considering what happened with the subsidies in the ‘My electrician’ program, where the funds were quickly exhausted and many interested individuals were unable to benefit, I would approach this optimism with caution.

If it turns out that PLN 3 billion for the electrification of heavy transport is insufficient, I will be more than pleased. I’m very much counting on it.

Currently, electric vehicles are primarily used by transport giants who can afford both the vehicle itself and the installation of the aforementioned charging infrastructure. Meanwhile, in Poland, the transport industry is highly fragmented and predominantly consists of very small carriers. The question arises: can their finances withstand the costs of transitioning to electrification?

I would like to return to our earlier discussion about gradual evolution. At this point, neither the technological solutions nor the infrastructure are prepared to fully electrify heavy transport. It is beneficial that there are companies that, due to their size, have the capacity to experiment with these types of solutions.

I completely understand that a company with 10 vehicles will not opt for even one electric truck, as then 10 percent of its transport would depend on electromobility. However, a company with a fleet of 100 vehicles might consider this move, as it would be less burdensome for them. This isn’t surprising – we are witnessing the natural development of new logistics and transport networks.